Skip to main content

Posts Tagged ‘Goran Dragic’

Irrelevant no more: Steady Celtics guard Thomas makes All-Star turn


VIDEO: Relive great moments from Isaiah Thomas’ solid 2015-16

By Ben Leibowitz, Special to NBA.com

To say Isaiah Thomas has come a long way in his NBA journey would be an understatement. The diminutive floor general, listed at a generous 5-foot-9, was consistently overlooked in the 2011 NBA Draft and wound up being that class’ “Mr. Irrelevant” for being selected with the final pick (No. 60 overall to the Sacramento Kings).

On Thursday, it was announced Thomas was voted an Eastern Conference All-Star for the first time in his career. He’ll also be the first player ever to ascend from the last pick in the NBA Draft to All-Star status, according to Marc D’Amico of Celtics.com.

That’s an incredible point of validation for Thomas, who was selected after fellow point guards Nolan Smith, Norris Cole, Charles Jenkins and Josh Selby. Those four guys have combined for 1.6 win shares, and Cole is the only one still in the NBA.

As for Thomas? He’s collected 29.2 win shares and counting — more than Klay Thompson and the 2011 Draft’s No. 1 overall pick, Kyrie Irving.

The Los Angeles Lakers bungled four shots at drafting Thomas in the second round of 2011, taking point guards Darius Morris and Andrew Goudelock and forwards Chukwudiebere Maduabum (who they traded to Denver) and Ater Majok. The latter two never suited up in an NBA game, while Morris and Goudelock combined for negative win shares. In short, the Lakers’ passing on Thomas in favor of those unheralded prospects was a complete and utter failure.

Interestingly, scouting reports didn’t even paint Thomas in an aggressively negative light. NBADraft.net pegged Thomas as a “crafty scorer” who possessed “good speed” and “excellent quickness.”

The negatives, as you might expect, focused almost exclusively on being vertically challenged.

“Very small, even for a point guard,” the report reads. “Ability to get inside will be largely negated by the size of NBA players,” was another note followed closely by, “Will struggle to matchup (sic) with NBA guards defensively.”

And, as Matthew Kamalsky wrote for DraftExpress in 2009, “One thing that scouts won’t be questioning is what Thomas can do when he puts the ball on the floor.” He went on to praise the youngster’s “absolutely outstanding first-step” and “excellent speed in transition.”

He also proved to be an assassin in the clutch. While suiting up for the University of Washington, Thomas hit a difficult step-back fadeaway at the buzzer to beat Arizona in the Pac-10 Tournament championship.

He possessed an impressive skill set and didn’t shy away from big moments, which you’d think NBA scouts would value. Somehow, Thomas tumbled down draft boards, but once he arrived in Sacramento, he made an immediate impact … and kept on improving.

Thomas averaged 11.5 points, 4.1 assists and 2.6 rebounds while sinking 37.9 percent of his 3-pointers as a rookie. His second season was much like his first and in his third season, he blossomed with averages of 20.3 points and 6.3 assists in 72 games (54 starts).

He left Sacramento as a free agent and landed with the Phoenix Suns via a sign-and-trade deal. In Arizona, his numbers took a dip as he filled a role as the sixth man behind Eric Bledsoe and Goran Dragic. But a trade deadline-day deal in 2015 Boston gave him a fresh opportunity that he ultimately parlayed into his first All-Star game.

Through 47 games (44 starts), Thomas is averaging career bests in points, assists, rebounds, steals and free throw percentage. The Celtics (26-21) are No. 5 in the East thanks in large part to Thomas, who leads Boston with a 28.9 percent usage rate.

Individual and team accomplishments point to Thomas earning a nod. But the Washington product also stacks up quite well when compared to his peers.

Among NBA point guards, Thomas ranks tied for fifth in player efficiency rating behind Stephen Curry, Russell Westbrook, Chris Paul and Kyle Lowry. All four of those guys are All-Stars as well (sorry, Damian Lillard).

From being passed over 59 times in the 2011 Draft, to being traded by twice to making his first All-Star team, Thomas has had to silence doubters all along the way. For those who believed in him, this moment must be pretty sweet.

Ben Leibowitz is a writer for PointAfter, a sports data aggregation and visualization website that’s part of the Graphiq network. Visit PointAfter to get all the information about NBA PlayersNBA Historical Teams and dozens of other topics.

Morning shootaround — Jan. 17


VIDEO: The Fast Break — Jan. 16

NEWS OF THE MORNING
Should the Blazers break up their backcourt?| Isaiah Thomas has flourished since his trade from Phoenix, but Suns haven’t | Are the Wolves in the right hands? | Kobe cancels out Rio, speaks on other topics

No. 1:  Should Blazers trade CJ McCollum? — Just when it appears the Blazers have a solid young backcourt for the future, along comes a thought: Are they better off trading CJ McCollum? The thinking is both McCollum and Damian Lillard are smallish guards who collectively run into defensive matchup problems, and since both are scorers, the Blazers could trade one to shore up the front court. Here’s what John Canzano of the Oregonian wrote recently:

The Blazers remain $13 million below the salary floor, and are sitting just four games in the loss column out of the No. 8 spot in the playoffs. The Feb. 18 NBA Trade deadline is looming and for those holding out hope that Portland may try to alter its future by obtaining a front-line player at the deadline, there’s a move that could be made.

CJ McCollum (20.9 points per game) is putting together a nice bounce-back season. At $2.5 million annually he’s currently a terrific value. But anyone who has watched McCollum play when paired with Damian Lillard knows that you can’t play them successfully together on a team that will compete at the top of the Western Conference.

That’s the goal, right?

They can score together, but they’re a defensive disaster when paired. They’re both chuckers, too. And there’s no way that Olshey is trading Lillard, his prized draft pick. Further, the Blazers don’t want to get into a position beyond the 2016-17 season where they have to pay both Lillard and McCollum.

They’re not the “Splash Brothers.” We know that. But we don’t want them to become the “Cash Brothers.”

Even as Olshey has a man-crush on McCollum, and has privately said he wouldn’t dream of trading him, the general manager should be looking and listening when it comes to offers for the guard between now and Feb. 18.

Portland also has a potential first-round lottery pick as trade bait (but theoretically would have to wait until the draft to make that deal). And even as Olshey feels stuck on a refusal to part with any of his future draft picks, the Blazers general manager should be quietly shopping McCollum, gauging his trade value. If the return resulted in a front-line player who would start for multiple seasons and better complement Lillard, you’d have to consider making it.

To be clear, I’m not saying “McCollum must go,” here. I like his game. Just not as much as Olshey does. I’m saying, McCollum’s value isn’t going to be greater than it is in the next two seasons. It’s just not sustainable. Also, I’m saying that this season shouldn’t just be viewed as a throw away in which the Blazers roll out a the lowest-paid roster in the league and pretend that’s all there is to see.

***

No. 2: Isaiah Thomas has flourished since his trade from Phoenix; Suns haven’t —  It was a strange marriage and a strange breakup. The Suns signed Isaiah Thomas to a very team-friendly free agent contract over a year ago, which angered Goran Dragic, who felt threatened by another point guard on a team that already had Dragic and Eric Bledsoe. Both Bledsoe and Thomas got paid while Dragic at the time was awaiting free agency. Well, Thomas was traded to the Celtics and Dragic to Miami and of the two, Thomas is clearly having the better transition. Here’s Paul Coro of the Arizona Republic on Thomas and the team he left:

Celtics point guard Isaiah Thomas is keeping the book open on the trade history now that he has become the starting point guard that he wanted to be. Thomas is being called an All-Star candidate, averaging career highs in points per game (21.6) and assists per game (6.7) although his 3-point percentage (33.5) is at a career low.

Isaiah runs the show for a 21-19, eighth-place team in Boston. When he was traded from Phoenix, the Suns were a three-point-guard show for a 29-25, eighth-place team.

“When we recruited him, we pitched the sixth-man role to him and to be one of the top scorers in the league,” Suns General Manager Ryan McDonough said. “That was with (Eric) Bledsoe and (Goran) Dragic on the roster. We signed Isaiah before we ended up getting Bledsoe’s contract resolved. It’s one of those things that seemed better to him in July than it did maybe during the season.”

The Suns pursued LeBron James first in 2014 free agency. Once that door closed after a meeting with James’ agent, the Suns targeted Thomas as the best available free agent after Sacramento did not pursue re-signing him. Thomas’ four-year, $27 million contract (via a sign-and-trade for Oriakhi) was – and is – considered a strong value, especially with how rapidly the NBA salary cap will rise over the next two years.

Thomas averaged 15.2 points and 3.7 assists for the Suns in 25.7 minutes per game, nine fewer minutes than he played in Sacramento. Thomas said he was competing for a starting job from the start of 2014 Suns training camp and commented during the season that the Suns situation was not what he expected. After the trade, he said playing time was his only issue in Phoenix, where he made 39 percent of his 3-pointers.

***

No. 3: Are the Wolves in the right hands? — The Minnesota Timberwolves are a team built for the future; everyone knows this. But the present-day Wolves aren’t doing very well; we can all see that, too. The question then becomes: is the team being brought along properly? And is Sam Mitchell the right coach in their development? Mitchell is the interim coach this season and the Wolves haven’t made any guarantees about his future, which means the organization is taking a wait and see approach. Meanwhile, Mitchell spoke with Kent Youngblood of the Star Tribune, who offered up this report:

And so, despite a nine-game losing streak, Mitchell loves the team he has. And, after practice Saturday, Mitchell defended his work developing that Wolves young roster.

“Our three leading scorers are our young guys,” Mitchell said of Andrew Wiggins, Karl-Anthony Towns and Zach LaVine. That will be a blessing a year or two from now. It’s tough when they’re developing. But everything they’re going through is going to make them better.”

It’s clear Mitchell would like to still be the coach when the benefits of that development are reaped. He also knows that, as the Wolves losing streak has gotten longer — it reached nine Friday — the criticism has grown louder. But Mitchell — who went through a similar situation in Toronto — is confident he is the right man for the job of developing this young team.

“Explain to me how we’re blocking the young guys?” Mitchell said. “When Andrew Wiggins is a 20-point scorer, and there are only 20 of those in the league? Karl-Anthony Towns is doing something that no rookie has done in 20 years. Zach LaVine is in the process of learning a new position and is our third-leading scorer. And Shabazz Muhammad has made tremendous strides. Gorgui Dieng has made strides …

“Now tell me, how are we hurting them?”

Mitchell is a self-described old school coach. Again Friday he left many of his young players in the game in the fourth-quarter of a one-sided loss, hoping they’d learn from the experience. He has admitted being hard on LaVine, even allowing as his style hasn’t always been fair.

“Yes, I tell him that all the time,” Mitchell said. “I tell him, ‘It’s hard, Zach, and sometimes it’s unfair.’ But that’s the way young players learn.”

As an example Mitchell offered Muhammad. The coaches were trying to get him to look for his teammates more, make the extra pass, play better defense. When he didn’t do that, his minutes took a tumble late in December. But, once Mitchell saw Muhammad making the effort, the minutes increased.

“I didn’t give him those minutes,” Mitchell said. “He earned them.”

But, as the losses mount, so does the pressure. Mitchell admitted Saturday that his team very much needed to experience a win, and soon, just to see some return on his players’ investment.

But he’s not going to change his approach. He said his experience in Toronto — where he won 33 and 27 games in his first two seasons before jumping to 47 wins and a division title in his third — gives him the confidence he’s doing the right thing.

“Two years from now, if we don’t do what we’re doing now, we’re never going to win, or compete, for playoff spots, or for the Western Conference or an NBA championship,” he said. “So my job is this. Even though it’s painful to do the right thing. And the right thing is to teach the young players — with the help of the veterans — how to play. And if I had not been through it before, maybe I’d panic. Maybe I’d be worried.”

***

No. 4: Kobe cancels himself out for Rio — Yes, Kobe Bryant does have a realistic grip on his basketball abilities at this point. Previously, Kobe openly wished he could be considered for a spot on the 2016 Olympic team, but with his struggles this season, he finally conceded that maybe taking a spot from a more deserving player wouldn’t be the best idea, even if he could pull it off. Remember, Olympics chief Jerry Colangelo didn’t promise Kobe a spot – only Paul George is virtually guaranteed one — but would consider it out of respect for what Kobe has done for international basketball. Anyway, Kobe some about this and other topics before playing in Utah. Here’s some of the Q and A:

 

Q: Lot of memories with the Jazz team. Do you have any memories with this Jazz crowd here in this arena?

Kobe: [Laughing] Yeah, a little bit. Yeah. Yeah. They were really, really tough on me, man. More so than the other crowds. They were tough. Signs when I’m shooting a free throw to literally just yelling it in my ear. Taking the ball out. They pissed me off so much. It was like ’08 in the playoffs where I just kind of erupted after a play, talking back to the crowd because they just kept driving me. With that said, it’s fond memories truly because it was like that’s what sports should be. That kind of bantering and that kind of competition or whatever. I’ve always loved playing here because of that.

Q: A man that is so driven like yourself, if you can, as you think about life after basketball, have you thought about ownership, coaching, broadcasting? Have you had a chance to just let it soak in and say what about life – because you’re still a young man – but after basketball that will keep you motivated and focused?

Kobe: Yeah, those are tough questions for athletes, I think. I’ve been kind of searching for what that was going to be for years now – 15 or 16 years – kind have been searching for that next passion and I’ve been very fortunate enough to find it to the point where it keeps me up at night. Constantly working, studying, and trying to get better at it, and I’m really looking forward to moving into that next phase. Ownership is in terms of being there day-to-day or coaching and things of that sort don’t interest me. I just don’t have a passion for it. Or broadcasting for that matter, I just don’t have a passion for it.

Q: Speaking of the future, the other day you said it was Draymond’s and Steph’s time to pursue championships and gold medals. That you’ve had your turn. Have you closed the door on pursuing the Olympics this summer or is that something you’re still considering?

Kobe: I think it’s their time. I think it’s their time. It’s funny; during a game in Golden State, it was a break in a play or whatever. Leandro Barbosa, who I’ve known for a very long time, comes up to me and goes, ‘Hey, I’ll see you in Rio.’ I just turned around and go, ‘Nah.’ [Laughs] He said, ‘Come on, man, it’s Rio.’ I said, ‘Nah, I think it’s the young guy’s turn to go play and perform.’

I’ve been fortunate enough to win two gold medals. I’ve had my moment. I think it’s important for them to go ahead and play. I’ll watch from afar, support from afar. If they want me to come down and speak to the guys, I will. That’s about it. I think as beautiful as it would be to play for our country, when I say my last game is going to be my last game I’m going to retire, then that’s it. It’s not like I’m going to walk off the stage and then but… I’m going to come right back for a minute. [Laughs] ‘Hold on one second.’

I think it’s pretty sweet to have the final game in a Laker uniform and to support the players from afar.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Suppose the moves made by Sam Hinkie eventually help rebuild the Sixers? How will he be viewed? … After a show start, Amir Johnson is starting to finally fit in with the CelticsLeBron James, whose company dropped Johnny Manziel, says the QB needs to turn things aroundCody Zeller at center? It might work. He has played better with the Hornets missing Al JeffersonJared Dudley says the Bucks were smart to trade him.

Morning shootaround — Jan. 14


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Jan. 13

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Dragic out at least 3 games, perhaps longer | Colangelo: Sixers could be better ‘sooner rather than later’ | Vitti wants to rest Kobe 1-2 weeks | Mavs’ Matthews miffed over rest day

No. 1: Dragic out three games (and perhaps longer) — Injuries haven’t made as much of a mess of the Miami Heat roster as it did a season ago. To date, the team’s most-used lineup of Chris Bosh, Dwyane Wade, Luol Deng, Goran Dragic and Hassan Whiteside has logged a team-high 332 minutes together. Last season, that crew played didn’t play a single minute together. However, that continuity was disrupted last night as Dragic missed Miami’s game in Los Angeles against the Clippers. He was sent home from the team’s road trip due to a calf injury and things may be a little bleak in terms of his injury. Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel has more:

Amid a stretch when he had been playing his best ball of the season, guard Goran Dragic has been lost to the Miami Heat for at least three games and possibly longer.

Coach Erik Spoelstra announced after Wednesday morning’s shootaround at Santa Monica High School that his starting point guard was being sent back to South Florida due to a strained left calf sustained in Monday’s loss to the Golden State Warriors at Oracle Arena.

Spoelstra termed the injury “a slight calf strain” and added, “it’s not a tear.”

Dragic, however, said a doctor in Los Angeles termed it “a bad strain” and Dragic he is anxious for the results of an MRI scheduled for his Thursday return to Miami.

“We don’t know yet for sure,” Dragic said. “We’ll see when I’m going to have the MRI and we’re going to know a little bit more. We don’t know. We cannot do the timetable.”

“I mean, it’s a frustrating, of course,” he said. “I want to be here with the team. It’s part of the game. Now the only thing I can do is do my part of the job, and try to get healthy as fast as possible.”

“I don’t know which move it happened,” Dragic said. “It started hurting.”

Spoelstra said the team’s training staff has narrowed the injury down to Monday’s second half.

“We looked a couple of different plays that happened last game,” Spoelstra said, “but it could have been on either one of them in the second half, one of them where he slipped on the baseline, another one where he took off. But it started to tighten up during the game.”

Dragic said treatment began immediately.

“After the game we did some ice. We did tests,” he said. “And just said as soon as we got to L.A. we were going to go and see the doctor for the ultrasound and we did.”

Dragic said it is the first time in his career he has sustained this type of injury.

“We did some treatments with ultrasound and tried to get the swelling out,” he said.

Now the question becomes whether the comfort built with Dragic will be lost, with the Heat to utilize Tyler Johnson and Beno Udrih in the interim.

***

(more…)

Morning shootaround — Jan. 6


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Jan. 5

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Dragic: Suns ‘always changing something’ | Curry annoyed by shin injury | Hoiberg, Bulls praise Butler’s play | McCollum’s star turn | Davis doesn’t mind criticism from Gentry

No. 1: Dragic questions loyalty of Suns’ front office — Goran Dragic has been in the NBA for eight seasons and spent roughly half of that time as a member of the Phoenix Suns. Although he’s currently on the Miami Heat and spearheading the attack of one of the best teams in the Eastern Conference, he can look back at his most recent stint in Arizona (2012-15) and see how Phoenix has gone from potential upstart team to one of the league’s worst squads. In an interview with Yahoo Sports’ Michael Lee, Dragic claims that the Suns were too willing to tinker with a core that seemed primed for success:

Dragic is too concerned with his own adjustments in helping Miami regain a spot among the Eastern Conference elite to be overly consumed with the situation in Phoenix. But he has his own theory for why a franchise that seemed so promising is suddenly foundering, based on his own experience with the Suns.

“It feels like they’re always changing something,” Dragic told Yahoo Sports. “They’re not like Miami, San Antonio, those teams that are really loyal when they find something.”

Dragic still has fond memories of his time in Phoenix – six seasons spread out over two stints – and is especially grateful for the opportunity the Suns provided after he chose to return for his second run with the team. They put the ball in his hands and allowed him to use his jet-ski speed and creative improvisations to earn third-team All-NBA honors during a surprising 48-win season in 2013-14 that now looks more like a mirage with the passing of time.

While claiming “no regrets” about his Suns tenure, Dragic remains disappointed by the ending, which he claims was the result of too much tinkering – primarily at point guard, a position the 6-foot-3 Slovenian had already proven he could handle. Dragic made it work after the team traded for point guard Eric Bledsoe in July 2013 and helped the Suns emerge as that overachieving darling. But Dragic was pushed away further from the ball – and inevitably, the team – the following season, when the Suns added another ball-dominant guard, Isaiah Thomas, in July.

“Me and Bledsoe, we built really great chemistry together, we played well and the whole team did. Everybody expected that we’re going to get some big guys that we thought we needed, but they did another move, they bring in a point guard and it was tough,” Dragic told Yahoo. “I was a little bit frustrated. It was tough, especially for me, because I was playing off the ball all the time, and I was guarding [small forwards]. That was tough for me, but they did what they did.”

The Suns don’t have the NBA’s worst record this season, but they have arguably been the worst team in the league over the past two weeks. Phoenix has lost nine straight games, including a home defeat to Philadelphia and an embarrassing road loss to the Kobe-less Los Angeles Lakers. During the free fall, Markieff Morris was suspended two games for throwing a towel at coach Jeff Hornacek; two of Hornacek’s top assistants were dismissed; and Bledsoe – the team’s best player – sustained a season-ending knee injury.

And on Friday, amid all of that turmoil, the Suns will welcome back Dragic, who noticed the fissures in the structure and got out before the unseemly collapse.

“I always believe when you find some pieces that you leave those pieces [alone]. But then you upgrade the other positions. Like San Antonio is doing. They always have the Big Three, but then it’s a good team. They always find another player at another position, so they’re always good. But that’s not my call,” Dragic told Yahoo, with an uncomfortable chuckle. “I was just there to play basketball. I tried to do my job.”

The Suns used dealing Dragic as a chance to again remake the roster as they got rid of Thomas and used a valuable trade chip – a top-three-protected pick from the Los Angeles Lakers – to acquire Brandon Knight at the deadline. They later split up the Morris twins, dealing Marcus to Detroit to clear cap space in a failed attempt to land LaMarcus Aldridge in free agency. And the addition of Tyson Chandler has not yielded much. Dragic is sympathetic to the plight of his former teammates.

“I wish them all the best,” Dragic told Yahoo. “I already went through the season with only [25] wins … and it’s not pretty. Most of the guys, we’re really competitive and you want to win a lot of games. And when you get to that mix where you don’t win [in] like 10 games in a row, that’s really tough. That’s really tough. Everything is worse. In your personal life. Everything. I always say I’m hurting sometimes, have a lot of injuries. But if you win a game, I feel great. But if you lose the game, those injuries, they come up. I don’t know how to explain it, winning is such a unique thing.”

Dragic sought that “unique thing” in Miami, where Pat Riley has built a franchise that has been stable and consistently good over the past two decades, with only four non-playoff seasons during his reign with the organization.

“That’s why I didn’t hesitate to sign in free agency, because they are always on top,” Dragic told Yahoo. “They are always looking at that big picture to win a championship. I still remember that year with the Suns, when we made the [conference finals in 2010]. That was one of the best moments in my career and I want to feel that again, to be in the playoffs and to be a contender.”

*** (more…)

Morning Shootaround — Jan. 4


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Jan. 3

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Curry questionable for Warriors next game, Green is a go | Butler wants nothing to do with Jordan comparisons | Heat starters finally in positive territory | Z-Bo remains a bright spot for Grizzlies | Kupchak knows Lakers can’t move on until Kobe does

No. 1:Curry questionable for Warriors’ next game, Green is a go — The Golden State Warriors are justified in their concern for reigning KIA MVP Stephen Curry, who is battling a shin injury that could allowed him to play all of 14 minutes in the team’s past three games. Curry is questionable for the Warriors’ game against Charlotte tonight (10:30 p.m. ET, League Pass). It’s a good thing the Warriors have Draymond Green healthy and fully engaged. He’s doing everything humanly possible to compensate for Curry’s absence, doing his “Dray-Magic” routine on the regular. As Carl Steward of the Bay Area News Group suggests, Green’s heroics know no bounds:

In the wake of the latest and most monstrous triple-double of his career — 29 points, 17 rebounds and 14 assists against the Denver Nuggets — Draymond Green seemed more delighted by the little challenge he won with coach Luke Walton.

It came in the first quarter of the Warriors’ early blitz. Green already had buried his first three 3-point shots as the Warriors raced out to an 11-2 lead in the first 2:18. During a Nuggets timeout, the Warriors huddled at the bench and, well, here’s Draymond to tell the rest:

“I was able to get it going and my teammates started to look for me. Then Luke drew up a play for me (during the timeout) and told me I wasn’t going to make it on the fourth one. So I had to knock that one down.”

And of course, he did. Nailed it. Nuttin’ but net, followed by a smile and a knowing smirk at the guy striding in front of the bench. Drain-mond. Trey-mond. Call him what you will, but make sure you call him unique and oh-so special, a man you can dare to do something and he’ll damn near kill himself trying.

If you want to know why Walton has been such a wonder as Steve Kerr‘s interim replacement, it’s stuff like this. He’s not so far removed from his playing days that he hasn’t forgotten how to play the game within a game, the mind game that gently goads a player to a new level of greatness.

Whatever competitive buttons he’s pushing with Green, he’s hitting all the gobble holes in the pinball machine. Draymond is lighting up everywhere and giving multiple replays. It makes you wonder what Walton might do next to keep his most versatile player at this astonishing level of play.

Hey, Luke, how about this one? Tell Green he’s played OK so far this season, but add that he’s probably reached his ceiling, and that there’s no chance he could ever become the NBA’s MVP. Yep, that might touch off a fresh bell or whistle.

One could argue fairly convincingly that through 33 games, Green has been the best all-around player in the league — and the most valuable — even over teammate and defending MVP Stephen Curry. True, he’s not off the charts in any one statistical category. He’s averaging 15.1 points, 9.3 rebounds and 7.4 assists. But as a composite, those numbers are pretty untouchable. And he’s shooting 41.4 percent from beyond the arc, up eight percentage points from his career best last year (33.7) .


VIDEO: Draymond Green racks up his league-leading 6th triple-double

(more…)

Morning shootaround — Nov. 28


VIDEO: Top 10 Plays from Friday’s action

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Warriors just keep winning | Jackson returns to OKC | Heat embracing life after LeBron | Davis goes down

No. 1: Warriors just keep winning The Golden State Warriors went into Phoenix Friday night with their historic season-opening winning streak on the line. Seventeen wins in a row? No problem, apparently, as the Warriors cruised to a 19-point win, 135-116, and keeping their streak alive. This included a typically impressive 41-point effort from Stephen Curry, who didn’t even get off the bench in the fourth quarter. What made this win even more outrageous, writes ESPN’s Ethan Sherwood Strauss, is that the Warriors didn’t even play particularly well, and yet they still won easily …

Here’s an illustration of what’s terrifying about the 17-0 Warriors, aside from the fact they’re 17-0. On Friday night, Golden State was torched on defense, ceding 116 points on 92 shots to the host Phoenix Suns. The Warriors were sloppy on offense, lousy with unforced errors, coughing it up 23 times. A bad game for them, in a few respects.

Still, they won by 19, 135-116. Also, they didn’t even need to play Stephen Curry in the fourth quarter. As in, the game ceased being competitive after three stanzas. The Suns were done. An unholy torrent of 3-point shooting had snuffed them. In his three quarters, Curry delivered 41 points and nine 3-pointers. The team set a record, splashing 22 from deep.

The Suns went small, attempting to best Golden State at its preferred style. What resulted was an aesthetically pleasing, fast-forwarded look at basketball. Phoenix already had dug a hole by then and couldn’t keep pace with Golden State in rhythm, hitting so many 3s. The Suns had a great night beyond the arc, draining 10 3-pointers on 26 attempts. Other teams just aren’t supposed to top that figure by 12.

Golden State, despite all the “streak” questions, continues to focus on process. Interim coach Luke Walton said, “We turned the ball over too much, we still have to get better at that.” Breakout All-Star candidate Draymond Green, who claimed a triple-double Friday, said, “I don’t think our performance was great tonight. You can’t let fool’s gold fool you.” It makes sense. The Warriors hit some 3s they won’t usually hit. They need to tighten up, fix certain things that might hurt them later.

If it’s fool’s gold though, what glitters still has to make other teams shiver with woe. Curry was brilliant, which would seem redundant, possibly even boring, if not for his propensity to unveil a new trick every game. This time, with Ronnie Price attempting to pressure him, Curry evoked three gasps on one play from the “away” crowd. First, with a behind-the-back dribble that left Price grasping. Then, with a pump fake that sent Price flying. And finally, the punctuating swish. Gasp. Gasp. Gasp. Cheer.

“Afterward, it felt like a neutral site game at that point,” Curry said of what his play did to the crowd.

So when will the Warriors lose? It could be sooner rather than later because of an injury to Harrison Barnes. While subbing at center, Barnes’ ankle gave way when he landed on Markieff Morris. The team says it’s a sprain and that X-rays are negative. Still, the expectation is he will miss some time, and Golden State will be without its dominant “death lineup” of Green-Barnes-Andre IguodalaKlay Thompson-Curry. That could end the streak, as could the basic law of averages. No team goes undefeated, no matter how great.

***

No. 2: Jackson returns to OKC It may not have been on the level of, say, LeBron James returning to Cleveland with Miami for the first time, but Friday night saw a significant homecoming nonetheless. Last season, former Thunder guard Reggie Jackson made his displeasure at his back-up role known, and was traded to Detroit, where he signed a long-term deal and has become an integral part of their core. With the Pistons in Oklahoma City last night, the Thunder seemed happy to get the big win, 103-87, and make something of a statement along the way, writes The Oklahoman‘s Erick Thorne

Former Thunder guard Reggie Jackson didn’t leave Oklahoma City on the best of terms.

Kevin Durant wasn’t afraid to say it.

“It was tough. I didn’t like some of the stuff he said in the media and how he went about it,” Durant said Friday before the Thunder’s 103-87 win over Jackson’s Detroit Pistons. “… But at the end of the day you’ve got to respect a guy who wants that opportunity and I can appreciate a guy who wants that opportunity.”

The Pistons were able to offer Jackson the opportunity he wanted to become a starting point guard, and rewarded him with a five-year, $80 million contract in July. Jackson was dealt to the Detroit in February after not being able to agree with the Thunder on a contract extension and following a report that his agent requested a trade out of OKC. The trade landed the Thunder Enes Kanter, as well as Steve Novak, Kyle Singler and D.J. Augustin.

Jackson, who called Friday night’s tilt against the Thunder “just another game,” was asked if he had any regrets about how his tenure in Oklahoma City ended.

“I don’t look back to last year,” Jackson said. When asked if there was regret that the Thunder didn’t get over the top, the one thing Jackson said he does look back on is “four years and I don’t have a ring.

“But like I said, I’m focused on the season so I can reflect in the summer,” Jackson said.

When asked if the trade was beneficial for both Jackson and the Thunder, Durant said he never really thought about it that way.

“We’ve got a really great team, we’ve got some great guys back. Reggie’s doing well in Detroit,” Durant said. “We had a rough ending last year with Reggie, but I can just think about when he first got here how hard he worked, how great of a teammate he is, and every guy wants an opportunity.”

***

No. 3: Heat embracing life after LeBron — It’s going on two seasons now since LeBron James left South Beach to return to his native Ohio. And while last season the Heat battled injuries and a major mid-season trade, this year the expectations are higher for the Heat, including from the Heat themselves. As Michael Lee writes for Yahoo, the Heat are actively looking at their legacy in the post-James era …

“I expect to be in the playoffs every year from now on,” Chris Bosh told Yahoo Sports. “We want it. After my ordeal last year, it’s a lot easier grinding it out, having a good time, playing out your dreams. It’s tough, but it’s a lot of glory in it. That’s what we’re about. People remember your name. And for me personally, it’s a chance to write our legacy without Bron, to be honest.”

LeBron James was better off without Miami than the other way around in their first season apart. While James flourished in his return to Cleveland, making his fifth consecutive NBA Finals run, the Heat floundered through an injury-plagued campaign in which trouble lurked around nearly every corner. Despite unearthing a rebounding and shot-blocking gem in Hassan Whiteside and trading for Goran Dragic, a third-team all-NBA guard two years ago in Phoenix, the Heat were doomed to the lottery once Bosh’s season came to an end. But the playoff reprieve had a surprise on the other side as Miami landed a seemingly ready-made contributor in promising rookie Justise Winslow, a defensive menace who won a national title at Duke and was available with the 10th overall selection in the draft.

The Cavaliers at full strength don’t appear to have a capable challenger to supplant James’ reign, but the Heat are certainly one of the more intriguing candidates in a much-improved Eastern Conference. Miami usually finds a way to avoid the recidivist rate of most non-playoff teams, making repeat trips to the lottery once in Pat Riley’s 20 years with the franchise and winning a championship within four years of its past two lottery appearances.

“If you’re not going to win a championship, that whole run through June sucks anyway,” Dwyane Wade said earlier this season. “We weren’t going to win a championship last year, so it wouldn’t matter if we went out in the first round or April 17, when our last game was. That’s kind of what I think at this point in my career. I don’t play to get into the first round of the playoffs. We’re still a young team, together trying to grow. We have a lot of potential and we see that.”

The Heat have the sort of talent that has the potential to be sensational or go sideways.

Wade and Bosh, neighbors and partners on two championship teams, are still capable of special nights but both are north of 30 and can no longer consistently carry teams as they have in the past. Dragic, whom Miami awarded with a five-year, $90 million extension last summer, is still navigating how to be aggressive while serving as the point guard on a team with multiple offensive options. Veteran Luol Deng, 30, has a résumé that includes two all-star appearances, but Tom Thibodeau may have squeezed out the best years of his career in Chicago. Amaré Stoudemire, 33, signed with the Heat believing they gave him the best chance to grab that elusive title, but he is being used sparingly to save him for the postseason.

“If we would’ve been together in our 20s, it would’ve been a real problem,” Stoudemire told Yahoo about teaming with Wade and Bosh, “but as we’ve gotten older, we’ve found ways to still be successful.”

***

No. 4: Davis goes down The New Orleans Pelicans may have gotten off to a slow start under new coach Alvin Gentry, as they’ve suffered through injuries to nearly everyone, but they got their biggest scare yet last night, when young franchise player Anthony Davis went down with a knee injury following a collision with Chris Paul and had to be carried from the floor. Davis eventually returned to the bench, though not the game, and the Pelicans weren’t thrilled with the injury itself, writes John Reid of NOLA.com …

Davis did not return to play after he was taken to the locker room to be treated. The Pelicans were assessed three technicals following the play in which they apparently thought Paul took a cheap shot to cause the injury.

Pelicans officials said Davis suffered a right knee contusion and he initially was listed as questionable to return. Late in the fourth quarter, Davis returned to the bench, but did not get back in the game.

Davis was in obvious pain after it appeared Paul knocked knees with Davis, who was trying to defend him in transition.Davis fell holding his right knee in pain.

”I wouldn’t had put him back in, it’s not worth the risk,” Alvin Gentry told reporters after the game.

It appeared Paul didn’t avoid trying to collide into Davis near the midcourt lane after Clippers forward Josh Smith blocked Ish Smith‘s layup attempt with 2:48 remaining in the third quarter.

When Gentry was asked what he thought about the play, he said he didn’t have anything to say about it.

”You saw it, so make your own judgement,” Gentry said. ”When you are a great player, they are going to come at you. We just have to match the physicality and find a way to stay off the injured list.”

After the game, Paul admitted that he drew the foul on the play.

”We (Davis and I) knocked knees and I hope he is alright,” Paul said.

Davis’ status for Saturday night’s game against the Utah Jazz has not been determined. Before the injury occurred, Davis played 28 minutes, scored 17 points on 7-of-16 shooting and grabbed six rebounds.

Gentry said they will know more about Davis’ status after he gets evaluated by the Pelicans’ training staff on Saturday. It is the third injury Davis has suffered after the first 16 games.

Davis missed two games earlier this month with a right hip contusion. On Nov. 18, Davis missed the Oklahoma City Thunder game because of a left shoulder injury.

”It’s part of the NBA, he’s hurt and we’ll see where he goes,” Gentry said. ”If he doesn’t play, then we’ll put somebody else in and they’ll have to step up. That’s what it is.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: According to a report, Jahlil Okafor‘s recent incident in Boston wasn’t his late-night altercation … Luke Walton might get credit for the Warriors winning streak after all … No better how bad things get for the Lakers this season, Kobe Bryant won’t be getting benched … If O.J. Mayo and DeMarcus Cousins had a verbal spat earlier this week, Mayo isn’t talking about itJ.R. Smith was thinking of Shaquille O’Neal when he went one-on-one against Frank Kaminsky.

One Team, One Stat: Miami in Transition


VIDEO: Schuhmann’s Advanced Stats: Miami Heat

NBA.com’s John Schuhmann gets you ready for the 2015-16 season with a key stat for each team in the league and shows you why it matters. Today, we look at the Miami Heat, who picked up the pace with a new point guard.

The stat

20151017_mia_pace_incr

The context

20151017_mia_basicsThe Heat ranked in the bottom 10 in pace after the All-Star break, but they came a long way from ranking dead last before it.

The obvious catalyst for the pace increase was Goran Dragic, who was acquired at the trade deadline. Dragic ranked fourth in the league in fast break points and third in shots in the first six seconds of the shot clock last season.

Those shots in the first six seconds of the shot clock are much more valuable (worth an extra point per every five shots) than ones that come later.

20151015_sac_shot_clock

Dragic helped the Heat get more of those first-six-seconds shots than they did before he arrived, and he helped them make more of them too.

20151017_mia_first6

In just 26 games with the Heat, Dragic ranked third on the team with 115 fast break points last season, more than Mario Chalmers accumulated in 80 games. Before Dragic could play any of those 26 games, the Heat lost Chris Bosh for the rest of the season. But their offense didn’t fall off at all after the break.

20151017_mia_before-after

While the Heat increased the pace and didn’t fall off at all offensively, Dragic’s old team – the Phoenix Suns, who also lost Isaiah Thomaswent in the opposite direction. No team decreased its pace (-1.5 possessions per 48 minutes) and no team fell off more offensively (-8.8 points scored per 100 possessions) after the break than the Suns did.

With Dragic and Bosh playing together for the first time, the Heat could be one of the league’s most improved teams, especially offensively. Not only should Dragic and Bosh be a potent pick-and-pop combination, but the point guard will push the pace and get them more shots early in the clock.

Pace = Possessions per 48 minutes
OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
DefRtg = Points allowed per 100 possessions
NetRtg = Point differential per 100 possessions

One Team, One Stat: Offensive Regression in Phoenix


VIDEO: Schuhmann’s Advanced Stats: Phoenix Suns

NBA.com’s John Schuhmann gets you ready for the 2015-16 season with a key stat for each team in the league and shows you why it matters. Today, we look at the Phoenix Suns, who took a big step backward after making some trades at the deadline.

The stat

20151017_phx_offrtg_drop

The context

20151017_phx_basicsGoing from seventh in offensive efficiency before the break to 28th after it (finishing 14th for the season) is a hard fall.

It was the trades of both Goran Dragic and Isaiah Thomas that precipitated the drop-off. Before the break, the Suns scored 106.3 points per 100 possessions with one or both of the lefty point guards on the floor. And they had at least one of them on the floor for 92 percent of their minutes. So when they were both traded, there was a big void in the Phoenix backcourt.

20151017_phx_pre-break

Thomas went to Boston and gave the Celtics’ offense a lift. They had scored 101.0 points per 100 possessions before the break, but scored 109.2 with Thomas on the floor after it. Dragic increased the pace in Miami and helped the Heat offense sustain it’s pre-break level, despite the loss of Chris Bosh.

Meanwhile, the Suns didn’t get as many opportunities in transition, turned the ball over more, and shot much worse, especially from 3-point range.

20151017_phx_before-after

Phoenix got Brandon Knight from Milwaukee at the deadline, but he played just 11 games after that, dealing with a couple of different leg injuries. And the offense wasn’t very good (99.4 points scored per 100 possessions) in the limited minutes (just 235) when Knight and Eric Bledsoe shared the floor.

The Suns added some shooting this summer, but Devin Booker is a rookie and Mirza Teletovic shot just 32 percent from 3-point range before missing the last three months of last season.

Tyson Chandler‘s rolls to the rim will open things up on the perimeter and Alex Len should see more improvement in his third season.

But the Suns are basically starting from scratch. And they have to hope that last season’s regression was more about them going through changes than it was about what they lost.

Pace = Possessions per 48 minutes
OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
DefRtg = Points allowed per 100 possessions
NetRtg = Point differential per 100 possessions

Morning shootaround — Oct. 7


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Oct. 6

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Cousins likes his MVP chances | Whiteside a no-go tonight vs. Magic | Lakers’ youngsters lap up Bryant’s feedback | Booker, Hibbert scuffle in Hawaii

No. 1: Cousins says MVP is his ‘to grab’ this season — Success in the win column has been hard to come by for Sacramento Kings star center DeMarcus Cousins. While he was an All-Star last season, the Kings have never won more than 29 games in any of his five seasons with the team. A roster restocked with veterans and a full season under coach George Karl have given Cousins hope of not just the playoffs, but of the grandest piece of NBA hardware come season’s end. Kevin Ding of Bleacher Report has more:

The topic is the 2015-16 NBA MVP award and whether it could be reachable for DeMarcus Cousins.

“Reachable, man?” Cousins told Bleacher Report, his voice rising high. “It’s mine to grab.”

In five previous NBA seasons, Cousins has never gotten even a single fifth-place vote for MVP, and his vertical isn’t the kind to invoke visions of such a quantum leap over myriad more established superstars.

His approach transcends hard work on the court or powering ahead with a limp in camp despite a “real tender” left heel. Cousins has made a totally fresh commitment to being the best he can be, becoming a constant at the Kings training facility late in the offseason in search of every edge he can get for his team.

And if the professionalism continues, Cousins is right to believe he can be the best.

“It’s going to take a full team effort,” Cousins said. “I’ll try to play at a high level and bring my team along with me.”

New teammate Rajon Rondo floated the same idea during Kings media day, telling reporters: “Not to put any pressure on him, but I expect nothing less but MVP.”

“I don’t trust the rebuilding system in the NBA,” Karl said. “It has failed about 80 percent of the time.”

Kings owner Vivek Ranadive wants to win quickly, too; the franchise moves to a new arena next season.

Most importantly, however, this is what Cousins wants.

He said his new veteran teammates are “incredible.”

“You’ve got guys who know how to play the game, guys that know the game,” Cousins said. “Coming out and building chemistry is even easier. Trying to do that with younger guys? They’re trying to figure out their game and learn how to play.”

Even so, and despite their recent discord, Karl, who reportedly worked to trade Cousins over the summer before the team decided to unite behind the young center, can’t resist criticizing this facet of Cousins that “cheapened the game” and cost the team key possessions last season.

“DeMarcus has got to make a commitment just not to allow frustration to cause a disruption in the game,” Karl said. “I don’t like negative emotion in a game. I think it’s a sign of weakness.”

Karl’s free-flowing offense figures to help Cousins tremendously with spacing on the floor, yet already in camp it has been Cousins often jacking up desperate three-pointers.

In ways big and small, Boogie’s poise and professionalism are going to decide this season in Sacramento.


VIDEO: Take an All-Access look at DeMarcus Cousins at training camp

*** (more…)

Morning shootaround — Sept. 24

NEWS OF THE MORNING

 

Bryant, World Peace help Randle strengthen his game | Next step for ex-No. 1 pick Bennett?Spoelstra thinking big about 2015-16

No. 1: Bryant, World Peace help Randle get on track — Julius Randle, the Los Angeles Lakers’ No. 1 pick from the 2014 Draft, was in the midst of his first NBA game when, 14 minutes in, he fractured his right tibia and was lost for all of 2014-15. He has put in immense work to get himself ready for the 2015-16 campaign and has been supported all along the way by the Lakers’ current star, Kobe Bryant, and one trying to get back with the team (Metta World Peace). Yahoo Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski has more on the way Bryant and World Peace have gotten Randle ready for a comeback season:

After losing his entire rookie season to that fractured tibia in his right leg – as well as getting a screw reinserted into his right foot to stabilize an old high school injury – Randle returns with a transformed body and ethic: He’s never eaten so well, never developed his frame so fiercely, never felt stronger and surer starting a basketball season. He’s a hulking 6-foot-9 forward with such possibility, a cornerstone of this Lakers future, the prospect that general manager Mitch Kupchak refused to include in those brief trade talks for Sacramento’s DeMarcus Cousins.

Kobe Bryant’s education of Julius Randle started on the floor in training camp, and stayed a constant presence once Randle was carried out of the season on a stretcher. It started in one-on-one games and long talks and Randle feeling humbled when he’d get to the arena for a preseason game and Bryant, soaked in sweat, was finishing a hard workout. “He’s a five-time champion and an MVP, and I’m thinking to myself, “What’s my excuse?”

Bryant lost his season to a rotator cuff tear in February, but balanced his own angst with months of pushing and prodding of his teenage teammate. Bryant always chooses his pupils carefully, rewarding those who demonstrate a serious-mindedness to the craft. More than that, Bryant understands Randle is one of the burgeoning talents who could give him reason to postpone retirement.

As Bryant rehabbed this spring and summer, a most improbable peer emerged as part of Randle’s championship lineage Lakers tutorial: Metta World Peace. So much of the Lakers’ intrigue with bringing back World Peace at 35 years old centers on how impactful he’s been in the gym for the young players, especially Randle.

Every day, Randle is mesmerized with the intellect of World Peace. Everything Randle tries on World Peace – the pump fake, the jab step, the subtle moves to create a sliver of space and a shot – are seldom successful.

Maybe Metta used to be stronger. Maybe he used to be quicker. All Randle knows is this, he says: “He isn’t biting on anything. He has the greatest hands I’ve ever seen play. You’ve got to give him everything you’ve got to get a bucket on him. Everything.

“I played one on one against Kobe in the preseason last year, and you’d play perfect defense against him; you can guess right on everything and it still doesn’t matter. He’s still going to make the shot. Metta is the same way. He’s going to guess everything right. He disrupts your rhythm. You’re going to have to make the tough shot over him.”

Julius Randle has grown close to guard D’Angelo Russell, the No. 2 pick in the 2015 draft, and has started to understand the enormity of the burden for this young core.

*** (more…)


Advertisement